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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advancing the fight for pay equity, President Barack Obama will sign two executive orders this week meant to close the persistent wage gap between women and men.

The first measure would prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries with each other. The executive action would protect employees – usually women – who discover and expose discriminatory pay policies or wages.

The second will require the Secretary of Labor to collect data on federal contractors’ workers’ compensation, which would be organized by race and sex.

Through the two orders, the president hopes to remedy the wage discrimination that often puts women at a disadvantage in the workforce, by encouraging salary transparency by federal contractors and making sure that violations and discrimination are more easily revealed.

Both of these orders come just days before what is expected to be an unsuccessful Senate vote on legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

The timing is designed to put congressional Republicans on the defensive, especially because most on the right refuse to support the latest pay equity bill being debated in Congress, The Paycheck Fairness Act.

In recent days, several conservative politicians have spoken out against the bill, citing an array of reasons why the legislation would be ineffective or counterproductive. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) fears that The Paycheck Fairness Act, meant to ensure equal pay for both genders, will actually expose men to unequal pay. Meanwhile, Texas governor Rick Perry (R) accused Democrats of debating “nonsense” by even tackling the issue.

And yet nearly all Republicans who oppose legislation similar to the orders being signed by the president maintain that they do support equal pay for men and women.

“I will vote the same I did a year ago, which is no,” said conservative senator Kelly Ayotte (NH).

Then, she added: “And I think it’s self-evident I am for women being paid the same for the same job as men.”

According to supposedly equality-backing Republicans, the current Paycheck Fairness Act is just a political ploy by Democrats. Even so, the GOP has not introduced an alternative plan.

This is where the president’s orders come in. They would, however, only pertain to federal contractors, not the general workforce.

Still, the measures represent the latest evidence that President Obama will use all available options to shape economic policy without a reticent Congress. They also promote a key issue for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, which should fire up the party’s base)—the nation’s largest labor federation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), has already come out in support of the president’s executive orders and urged even stronger action.

With Tuesday, April 8 marking Equal Pay Day, The Hill reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will launch its own media campaign to bring attention to the issue of wage inequality among the genders. Specifically, the “GOP Pay Gap” campaign will target the GOP’s “longstanding baseless opposition to common-sense measures that would end gender-based pay discrimination,” says DSCC spokeswoman Regan Page. The DSCC will be further backed by the Democratic National Committee, which is also planning an ad campaign in support of pay equity.

Beyond the issue’s larger economic implications, it represents a social and political reality that Republicans have failed to address. The Republican Party’s lack of uniformity on the issue – and its lack of support for the current Paycheck Fairness Act bill in the Senate – make Republicans vulnerable to accusations that they are fighting a “war on women.” Considering that Independents and even Republican women increasingly support legislative efforts to close the gender pay gap, continued opposition could risk driving even more women away from the party.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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